When Basic AML Training Just Isn’t Enough

Deutsche Bank is reportedly leading an internal investigation into an alleged USD6bn laundry, using ‘relatively FCAbasictrainingsimple transactions’ to clean cash. Simple transactions used to launder money should be easy to identify – if the software does not pick it up, then the employees handling the transactions should be able to spot a suspicion. Basic anti-money laundering training would guide someone to tell their AML team if something in a transaction does not look right. What if it did, and the message is still not getting through?

Cornered?

Regulated financial institutions spend money on ineffective training programmes; employees spend time attending training sessions that offer no new information on the subject or on how to approach the issue at hand. There are a myriad reasons why training programmes do not have the desired effect, but why do firms still use them?

They do so because they have little choice. A robust regulatory environment, a requirement to train all employees on the risks associated with financial crime and the spectre of a large financial penalty for not doing so have backed banks and other regulated firms into a corner. Gone are the days of leaving all knowledge of money laundering, terrorist financing, sanctions busting and bribery to the compliance department. In the present environment, we have to train all employees, management, directors and the C-suite on financial crime risks. And this, as compliance officers know, comes at a great cost to a bank.

Compliance generates no revenue – the compliance department is a straight-up cost centre. Although the argument that having an effective compliance programme in place could save you a few million dollars in regulatory fines is quickly gaining ground, compliance officers – it appears – are still bound by tight budgets. This is sometimes to the detriment of quality training, forcing compliance officers to compromise on the standard of training they want to deliver to employees.

Compliance budgets are larger than they were a few years ago. The coffers are deep enough to attract and retain talented individuals to maintain good compliance procedures in banks, and to ensure that every employee has at least a basic grasp of anti-money laundering, sanctions and anti-bribery and corruption requirements – how it works and who the ‘bad guys’ are. But compliance training where employees sit through another session on placement, layering and integration and learn nothing more relevant to their role, do not encourage anyone to think in terms of risks posed to their business line.

Beyond the money laundering cycle

Basic training has done a great job; meet bank staff from any division in a corporate, retail or investment firm and they will be able to trot out the three stages, and this was not the case five years ago. Except now, the information comes by rote – it is learned, absorbed, recalled when asked but is it really embedded into how bank employees do their jobs?

FCAadvancedtrainingAdvanced or more specific AML/CTF training courses on the market should address the particular risks posed by different areas of banking. Looking into trade based money laundering operations using examples and knowledge from people who have worked in trade financing first hand, not simply adding a few slides to a power point describing false invoicing would be a good start; but this is rarely the case.

It’s about the people, stupid

Global AML efforts are now hinged upon a risk based approach – the basic principle of applying most resources where the greatest risks lie. To do this, employees need to understand the risks – what they look like, where and when they can occur. The emphasis must be on engaging the learners.

“To combat financial crime and terrorist financing, the people who work with clients must be aware of the risks. Not just compliance and the firm’s financial intelligence unit, but front line business people in an institution.” Kim Manchester, a compliance veteran and CEO of ManchesterCF told Financial Crime Asia.

This rings true. The customer facing employees – whether private banking relationship managers or traders creating OTC derivatives – know their client well enough to offer them precisely the right product at the right time. They also should be able to know with the same precision when a deal does not add up. Compliance officers can erroneously believe that ML/TF is not an issue for some of the more sophisticated financial products. Let’s take derivatives as an example. Some compliance officers do not consider AML/CTF something that derivatives traders need to be concerned with and so they did not need training on this area.

This is a huge oversight which could end up costing a financial institution. Mis-priced derivatives contracts can be used as an instrument to launder money and to channel funds to bribe takers. If the traders who engineer these products are able to recognise and report unusual activity – such as a price that does not chime with the market – compliance training is hitting the mark. But if these traders are sitting through a course which spends only a fraction of the time looking at how financial criminals try to manipulate sophisticated products, they might never spot a suspicious transaction. AML/CTF training must reach far beyond the basic stages and into the specific business lines run by banks on the markets. Because this is where the real financial crime takes place.

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One comment

  1. The Banks AML insufficient barriers are likely due to the lack of “Know your customer” (KYI) processes. The usual training sessions take for granted that Banks have in place an effective overview before opening a new account, and following consistency cheks during the life pf the relationship.

    With an easy due diligence it should be possible by the Fron Office functions to verify the integrity of the KYI process, and this “check up” should be validated by the Compliance Function as its major responsibility.

    The various scandals sanctioned by the Regulators seems to show that Front office prime role is focused on commercial development or execution. Back Office controls are aimed to process transactions efficiently with little if none comprehension of the underlying incoming of outgoing flow of money, while the burden of AML is concentratd in the Compliance Officer field, without having no direct knowledge of the Customer. The risk of a Catch 22 may well exist in some Banks afflicted by fraudolent activity of their clients.

    By adding insult to injury, Compliance functions are attributed an unproportioned cost allocation, wherever there is unwillingness of the business units to Xray their customers regularly, disregarding the underlying Legal and Reputational risk.

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